Undercover Boss is a television show that needs almost no introduction. It’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a show where bosses go undercover in their company and see where their business is succeeding and where it is failing. In going undercover (in some of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen) the bosses must use empathy to place themselves in the shoes of their employees in order to gain a deeper understanding for the work they do.
The episode I decided to watch for my assignment was season two episode three, Purdy’s Chocolate. In this episode the Director of Merchandising and Marketing Kriston Dean takes to the factory floor. Kriston is from a family of strong business women that all held high positions in various companies. She loves her family and has a strong work ethic.
While working undercover on the floor Kriston meets Kathy, a grandmother working to put her grandson through college. Kathy would have loved to retire years ago but due to support her grandson and helping her recently fallen ill husband, she must work every day. Kathy holds a lot of responsibility on the floor and is seen as having perfect technique.
In addition to that Kathy explains that the working conditions are very difficult on the assembly line floor as they workers are expected to stand all day while they work. They also are expected to reach impossibly high levels of responsibility that go outside of the scope of a normal job.
Throughout this episode I took notes for both Kriston and Kathy, cataloguing everything they saw, heard, felt and did into an empathy map.
Kathy’s empathy map was mostly driven by things she was passionate about, her family, her husband and her love of chocolate. Although the conditions were harsh and difficult for her after all these years, she gladly faced the challenge head with a perfect technique that made her an invaluable member of the team.
Kriston’s empathy map was more flushed out as the episode was told from her perspective. For Kriston it was obvious that she was very unfamiliar working in conditions such as these so every experience was a new one. She listened carefully to what Kathy had to say and placed herself in Kathy’s shoes to try and understand where Kathy was coming from.
Kriston used empathetic thinking and was very touched by Kathy’s story, at the end of the episode she offered to pay for the remaining two years of Kathy’s grandson’s college education. However I was expecting her to offer both a college payment and a solution for the painful job requirements, as Kriston herself even pointed out how uncomfortable it was to work there all day.
Empathy really paved the way for Kriston to connect not only with Kathy but with the rest of the employees at Purdy’s as well. Without empathetic connections Purdy’s future expansions would not have been as successful as they are today. To read more about my analysis with empathy mapping and Purdy’s chocolate you can view my presentation here: EmpathyMapPurdys